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Investigation concludes UBC leadership violated academic freedom

(Ottawa – October 15, 2015) The Canadian Association of University Teachers is calling on the leadership of the University of British Columbia to be held accountable for interfering in the academic freedom of a faculty member. 

In a report released today, an investigator appointed by the University concluded that “UBC did not live up to its responsibility to protect and support the academic freedom of one of its faculty members, Dr. Jennifer Berdahl.”

“The report points to a serious failure on the part of the senior leadership of UBC in violating the academic freedom of Professor Berdahl, and subsequently failing to speak out in defence of her rights,” says CAUT executive director David Robinson. “The leadership must be held to account for this, and Professor Berdahl is owed an apology.”

The fact-finding investigation, led by former B.C. Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith, was established in August following allegations that the academic freedom of Jennifer Berdahl, Professor of Leadership Studies in Gender and Diversity at the Sauder School of Business, was infringed. 

Professor Berdahl says she was contacted by UBC Board Chair John Montalbano after writing a blog article about the unexpected and unexplained departure of the University President, Arvind Gupta. Professor Berdahl claims Montalbano told her that the article harmed the reputation of the Board, raised questions about her academic credibility, and jeopardized her funding from the Royal Bank of Canada. 

Today’s report concludes that Montalbano’s call to Berdahl was “unprecedented and unwise” and that he and others in the University Administration should have exercised better judgement by acting “in a manner more consistent with UBC’s obligation to protect academic freedom.”

“Academic freedom is the central value of all universities, and it is the duty of the entire academic community to defend and support it,” adds Robinson. “Today’s report makes it clear that the Chair of the Board, who has announced his resignation, must bear particular responsibility for setting in motion the series of events in this case. His ability to continue in his role was fatally compromised by the report's findings.”


Media contact:

Angela Regnier, Communications Officer, Canadian Association of University Teachers; 613-726-5186 (o); 613-601-6304 (cell)